The first person I ever came out to was a complete stranger. It was surprisingly easy. The journey to get to that moment was not easy, nor the mountains I would have to climb after; but coming out to a stranger wasn’t difficult. It was freeing and desperate.

It was the early 1990s and he was a mentor with the Delta Youth Alliance, now the Orlando Youth Alliance. At the time, it was the only resource for gay youth to meet and support each other and it remains a vital component of the community today. My involvement with the group gave me the courage to come out to my high school best friend. That was difficult because it was someone close to me. It was a bigger gamble as there was more riding on her reaction than that of the stranger.

Following the success of that revelation, I felt it was time to come out to my mom. She and I were very close and I felt like my life was about to change in a major way. I wanted her to be part of that change so we wouldn’t grow apart. The thought of actually doing it though was terrifying, and I had no clue how I was going to break the news. At a Delta Youth Alliance meeting, one kid told a story about his friend coming out to his parents. The friend had plans to spend the weekend on a camping trip with other friends. Before he left, he put a note on the refrigerator that read, “I’m off camping. I’m gay. See you Sunday.”

Genius! I knew what I needed to do. I’d write my mom a note explaining that I am gay and I’d give it to her as she dropped me off for work at Sea World the next Saturday. In my mind, I was giving her eight hours to process it before she had to talk to me about it. Simple!

Turns out it wasn’t so simple. The previous story of the guy going camping didn’t say anything about how awful those eight hours would be for everyone involved. We didn’t have cell phones in 1991, so we had to wait for a resolution. I was imagining the worst: that my stuff had been thrown away and I was homeless. My mom spent the time worrying about me. When we were finally reunited that day, she gave me the strongest hug I’ve ever had. Although there was definitely a learning curve after that, we knew we would be ok. I was pretty lucky to have had a supportive family.

I was reminded of this story recently, after seeing “Love, Simon.” It’s an incredible movie on many levels. It’s the 1980s John Hughes’ movie for gay kids that we never had growing up. More than that, it’s a testament to how different life is now.

The night before I passed the “I’m gay” note to my mom, I made my parents rent “Torch Song Trilogy.” I thought watching a movie about gay people might lighten the blow for them when they heard their youngest son was gay. I was wrong. Turns out a movie where a lead character is beaten to death is not a good precursor to coming out to your parents.

In retrospect though, there weren’t many options that I was aware of. Most of the LGBTQ-related entertainment I saw as a child threw around the words “fag” and “faggot,” and usually ended in suicide attempts, a gay bashing or death due to complications from AIDS.

The cultural significance of movies like “Call Me By Your Name” and “Love, Simon” isn’t lost on me. I’ll include in this list the not-so-recent “Broken Hearts Club.” I can’t imagine how monumental it would have been for me as a teenager to see a film that positively reflected the confusion, heartache and anxiety I was going through.

I don’t look back on it in envy, but in profound admiration for the distance society has traveled and how much further we will travel with well-rounded youth leading the charge.

In this issue we highlight some of those amazing young people who are leading the march against gun violence and the organizations giving them the space to do so. March For Our Lives joins Tampa Pride on March 24 to show our community what intersectionality really is and why it is important. Also in this issue we preview Orlando Youth Alliance’s Babes in Bonnets fundraiser and celebrate as St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman honors Transgender Day of Visibility. For entertainment we introduce you to The Lady Boys of The Venue in Orlando and profile transmasculine actor Salem Brophy who stars in Jobsite Theater’s “HIR.”

We strive to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. I hope you enjoy this latest issue.

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